the canticle of Christ  /// 1:15-23




A canticle is “a hymn, chant or song, typically with a biblical text, forming a regular part of a church service.” These six verses in Colossians are often discussed in commentaries as being a part of, or possibly the whole of, a common hymn that Christians would sing as a sort of credo. The debate among scholars is sort of fruitless because there is no way to determine whether Paul is using lines out of a popular hymn, or if he wrote the song here. It’s much like the argument that sacred music students wrestle with as to whether or not Martin Luther stole local pub tunes to write “A Mighty Fortress”, one of my favorites… The world may never know.


Nevertheless, what is most exciting to me about this piece, is that it is often cited as one of the “most important Christological passages in the New Testament.” It is a beautiful poem which has Christ at it’s core. Jesus is supreme in ALL THINGS. The poetry and subject is stimulating, making it hard, I imagine, to not sing the lines in a rhythmic fashion as you read them. Especially in the original Greek. English translations have a harder time rhyming and metering the text, but it still leaps of the page in exuberance as I read it. Listen to this Canticle of Christ.


He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20 ESV)


The structure is fascinating. There are four stanzas, and each stanza is separated by the terms “He is”. These four stanzas form a chiastic structure, which is typical in Biblical poetry. The first stanza and last stanzas begin by stating “He is the…” (literally, “Who is the”) and those two lines are longer and explain how He is the firstborn of all creation and the firstborn from the dead. The two middles stanzas begin with, “and He is” and highlight Christ’s current work. He serves as holding all things together and being the head of the Church. I have simplified it be dividing the 4 stanza into 2 major themes. The first half of the poem is all about creation and ends with the overwhelming statement that Christ is currently holding the entire universe together.  The second half is all about the re-creation and begins with the statement that Christ is the head of the new creation and therefore supreme over everything.  In the first half – over creation – Jesus is the firstborn over all creation. In this 2nd half – over recreation – Jesus is the first from the dead. In the first half – over creation – we learn that through him and for him and in him all things were created. In this 2nd half – over recreation – we learn that through him and for him and in him all things are reconciled- or recreated.


I am very excited about this canticle of Christ. So, let’s dive into this – but before we do I want to pray. [prayer]



The image of the invisible God

Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God. Jesus is in the place reserved for humanity. He is the imago dei, or the image of God. And he is a perfect reflection – an exact representation (Heb.1:3). John, the disciple, said that no one has ever seen God but he has made him known.  And Jesus says the same, one of his disciples asked him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it will be enough for us.” And Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the father. How can you say, show us the father?” (Jn 14:8&9)


Jesus is the image of God. That word image is powerful. Very powerful! It is “eikon” in Greek, which literally means, well… “image”. Image can be defined as a representation, and a representation, if it is perfect, is said to be a manifestation. For instance, when you look into a mirror you see an image of yourself. It is a pretty close representation of you. Fortunately, you have no need to compete with that image because its just a reflection. But, if that reflection became more and more like you, if it grew a third dimension, and if it began to have the same freewill that you have, it would then begin to walk, talk and move all on its own. The more characteristics it begins to share with you the closer it will be to becoming you. We would actually say that it is a manifestation of you.


Because God is invisible, Jesus is God in the flesh. When you look at Jesus you see the invisible God, something you could not see before.


Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:1-3 ESV)


Firstborn of all creation

This does not mean that he was born or created at sometime after God the father had already existed. The Bible is absolutely clear that Jesus was pre-existent and that he has always been.


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3 ESV)


John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’” (John 1:15 ESV)


The term “firstborn” is used over 130 times in the Bible and almost every time it is used to denote position and status. For instance the Old Testament refers to the nation of Israel as God’s firstborn son (Ex. 4:22) In this song, we learn that Jesus is God’s heir par excellence. All of it belongs to him. It is his. In fact, the next verse says not only is it all his but he actually made it all.


all things were created

This is absolutely amazing. Paul here attributes to Christ, what we normally and habitually accredit to the Father. I think that it is often that case, that when speak of “God”, when we say things like, “He he has the whole world in his hands” or “God created the heaven and the earth and sea and the dry land” in our minds we are thinking of God the Father. Perhaps we even think of an old man with a long white beard whose holding the world in his hands and creating the universe and mankind by the power of his might. But the Bible is clearly explicit, and not just here in Colossians, but all throughout the Bible, that it is Christ, the second person of the Trinity, who created the universe. Let’s look at the beginning – also called Genesis.



In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:1-3 ESV)


Now look again at the opening of John’s gospel.


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3 ESV)


Jesus is the word. How was the universe created in Genesis 1? By the Word of God. How was it created in John 1? Again by the word of God.



through, to and in him

So — Jesus created it all, he’s the firstborn, or heir, over all creation – so all of it is his and then it tells us that everything that exists –  exists through him, and for him, and in him. It all flows from him and it all was created for him. Everything was created for him as his possession and to him to give him glory. The rocks themselves can not help but praise the Lord Jesus Christ.


For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:36 ESV)


In him all things hold together. Jesus Christ is the one who’s holding it all together and if he lets go it all just come crumbling down. I want you to hear my all time favorite Psalm – 139. In the year that Rich Mullins died he was recording a song written to this very Psalm and it has been my favorite ever since I heard him sing it.


Read Psalm 139:1-14:


This text says it all. He knows your thoughts he knows your ways he knows your innermost being he knows your molecular structure he knows the heavens and the stars and the deepest parts of the ocean. There is nothing too far from him, nothing too small for him and nothing too big for him. He holds all things together.


Medical Definition of LAMININ: a glycoprotein that is a component of connective tissue basement membrane and that promotes cell adhesion.


Show Laminin Video


The trimeric proteins intersect to form a cross-like structure that can bind to other cell membrane and extracellular matrix molecules. The three shorter arms are particularly good at binding to other laminin molecules. The long arm is capable of binding to cells, which helps anchor organized tissue cells to the membrane.


I think this is so cool and so fascinating. Now I’m not saying that because there’s a molecular compound in our body that happens to be shaped like a cross therefore it proves that Jesus hold all things together. But what I am saying is that because Paul says that Jesus holds all things together and the rest of the Bible say that Jesus holds all things together this proves that Jesus holds all things together and isn’t it cool that this truth is painted or designed in someway in our very molecular structure?



head of the church

And he is the head of the church. At this point, the song moves from creation to recreation. Christ has redeemed, or rescued, or recreated a body for himself called the Church – and that is “church” with a Capital “C”. We are the new humanity. Humans whose old natures have been replaced with the Holy Spirit. Humans whose old heart of stone have been replaced with a much softer heart of  of flesh. And Jesus is the head of that body. This means – not just that he is the CEO or the leader but that a body without a  head is well – dead. He is head of that body because he purchased us with his very life.



Firstborn from the dead

Not only did Jesus Christ’s create all things through himself and for himself and in himself but he became a man and came and lived in this creation in order to reconcile – or rescue it. And this was part of the design from the beginning. The Bible tells us over and over and over again that it was the will of the Father, it pleased the Father, that Christ would go first, pay for the sins of the world through death and then conquer sin and death by rising from the dead. In doing this, he paves the way for us to be raised from the dead also.



all things are recreated

And just like all things have been created through him and for him an in him, all things have also been reconciled, or recreated, through him and for him and in him.


It is not just the church that has been reconciled (recreated) but there will come a day when all that we see on this earth will be reconciled to himself. Christ’s final work upon the cross did more than just save your soul it also defeated every power and authority – whether on earth or in heaven – and one day the whole of creation the entire universe will be perfect and new. In that day, the Bible tells us that the lion will lay down with the lamb and that there will be no destruction or harm on his holy mountain (Is 11).


For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (Romans 8:19-22 ESV)


And it is all done through the peace that has was made by the blood of Christ on the his cross. In the next chapter Paul will unpack even more of the victory and the triumph and the peace that has been made by the cross of Christ.



So what does this canticle mean for you today – right now? [discussion] Well, i believe it means this, listen to what Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew.


All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:27-30 ESV)


So the same Jesus who knows what’s going on inside of your molecular structure who knows what’s in your innermost being who also holds the stars and planets together that God created the universe and he was holding it all together in himself invites you to come to him and find rest for your weary soul. Why then would you not come? Christ is sufficient and he is supreme over all things including your sin, including your pain, including your heavy burdens. If he’s holding the universe together certainly he can give rest to your weary soul. Won’t you come tonight?


Listen to these last few verses of this section when he tells us exactly what this song means for you what does it mean for you?


And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven… (Colossians 1:21-23 ESV)


You who are far from God Christ has re-created you has reconciled you to himself through his body of flesh on the cross and his death in order Paul says to present you, just like he does the bride of Christ, as holy and blameless. And I love this I love this part because there’s a condition that follows, and honestly I don’t like conditions. I don’t want to hear I’ve been made blameless I’ve been made holy and I am presented to God by Christ as holy – if. I don’t want to hear the if – condition. But want you to hear this condition because it’s still not a heavy condition, it’s not a burden. “If you continue in the faith not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard.”


And if you remember we talked about last week the definition of the gospel is something that has already been done for you not something that you need to do. So, Paul’s not adding a condition that you need to be strong, you need to be better, and try harder and be gooder. No. Instead, he saying is you need to hold onto the gospel that you heard. Don’t shift from the Gospel that you heard. Don’t try to fix it yourself, only have faith that he is supreme and sufficient and above all things.